When I told my Jesus-following friends I would be speaking in a mosque, testifying to Jesus’ work in my life and how He motivates me to stand against discrimination, hate crimes and oppression, I was met with suspicion and confusion. With Islamophobia on the rise, countering the dehumanization of Muslims is an unpopular stance, but it is the right one. We should not be a people motivated by fear. We should be a people willing to enter into difficult spaces as servants who desire to learn, motivated by the work of our Savior, modeling our faith and magnifying Jesus by cultivating peace amongst His creation.
Why We Engage
Our human tendency is to flock to people who are like us—to tribalize. But as followers of Jesus, the Word of God has full superiority over our lives, and that Word commands us to love the Lord, love our neighbors and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 22:36-39, 28:19). Jesus sees beyond nationality, and His heart yearns for the world to do the same (Rev. 7:9).
The God of the Bible requires His followers to imitate Him by entering into difficult spaces and loving their neighbors (Eph. 5:1; Mark 12:31; Lev. 19:18; Matt. 22:38; Rom. 13:8-10; Jas. 2:8). We are called to be inclusive and show no partiality (Jas. 2:9).
We love because of the great love that was shown to us. We extend grace because of the immeasurable grace that was first given to us through Jesus. We intercede for others because the Spirit is constantly interceding for us. And we enter into difficult and awkward relationships with the “other” or “enemy” because Jesus entered into our difficult space when we were His enemies (Rom. 5:8). His pursuit should fuel us to pursue.
How We Engage
But how do we, as the Church, engage and enter into relationships with people whose theological and ideological frameworks are different from our own? Here are three guiding points and some practical do’s and don'ts to help shape our understanding when engaging Muslims.
If fear plays a role in our inability to enter these kinds of relationships, we should ask the Spirit to soften our hearts toward those He created who do not (yet) share in His glory (Heb. 12:6). Most importantly, enter these relationships with the intention of learning. Ask the Lord to give you eyes to see how the past has shaped their present and a heart to meet them where they are.
- Visit your local mosque.
- Be sensitive to where the “Christian West” has failed to look like Jesus.
- Ask questions about their families and their background.
- Talk about Jesus, but carry no agenda. Human souls are not projects, and it takes time to build trust in any relationship.
- Follow the Spirit’s lead, not your agenda. New relationships are not the place to debate in-depth theology. For example, God coming to us in the form of a man is essential to Christianity but very offensive to Muslims, and thus, not a good place to begin a relationship.
We need to be equipped with the cultural awareness to engage those who are different than us linguistically, nationally, tribally, socially and even religiously; one day, those from all tribes, tongues and nations will worship the Lord together (Rev. 7:9-10).
- Dress modestly.
- Don’t initiate a handshake with someone of the opposite sex. Women should approach women, and men should approach men.
- Offer to take off your shoes when you walk into their home, and try not to show the bottoms of your feet.
- Don’t allow your dog to jump into the laps of your guests. (This may be a great rule for all new friends.) Dogs are considered “dirty” in Islam; however, many Muslims have no problem with them.
- If you have adequate time to prepare a meal for Muslims, research markets in your area that sell Halal meat. Don’t serve pork or alcohol.
- Don’t interchange the terms Muslim, Arab, Arabic, Allah and Islam. A Muslim is a person who practices the religion of Islam. These terms mean different things.
To be a light in the world and bring the gospel to the nations, we must engage unbelievers (Matt. 28:19-20). Our obedience to this command—modeling the gospel with our actions and our words—brings glory to Jesus.
- Don’t criticize Muhammad, the Qur’an, or anything about the Islamic faith.
- Don’t assume you know everything about what Muslims believe or that all Muslims share the exact same beliefs.
- Respect their fasting during Ramadan by not eating or drinking around your Muslim friends during the holiday.
- Don’t be afraid to visibly practice your faith and pray in the name of Jesus. It will not be a surprise that you and your Muslim friends disagree theologically, and they will appreciate your authenticity.
- Treat God’s Word with respect by not placing your Bible on the ground. Muslims show a great deal of respect for the Qur’an.
We must be more committed to our relationships than to being right. We must push back against the hateful rhetoric being spoken about all Muslims with the love we have received from Christ. And we must conscientiously engage in gospel conversations, in a land where we have the religious freedom to do so, for the glory of the Lord.
The Lord, in His sovereignty, has allowed thousands of refugees—many of whom are Muslim—to resettle among the millions of Muslim Americans who have been our neighbors for years. My hope and prayer is that we would not see this as a hindrance to the advancement of our comforts, but as an opportunity to be ministers of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18).